Movie Review - Rio, I Love You

With the 2016 Summer Olympics underway in Rio de Janeiro, this film is certainly timely, if not opportunistic. This is the third in the film series called Cities of Love. It's a concept and franchise by Emmanuel Benbihy. It's actually similar to what Garry Marshall is doing with his series of holiday films. Benbihy's movies center around an international and metropolitan area, focusing on couples in various states of romance or romantic entanglements. The opening is a black background with a list of commercial sponsors. Many films do but to put the corporate logos so blatantly upfront proves this movie is less an artistic enterprise and more an assembly product, probably done for tourism promotion rather than vital storytelling.

There are ten segments or ten short films, each by an individual director, set somewhere in Rio de Janeiro. Unfortunately, the movie itself doesn't do much of anything to demarcate or make clear that there are ten distinct stories being told here. We see ten different couples grace the screen. Not all are lovers in the traditional sense. Some are family members, but there are no titles or sometimes even dialogue that help to identify the people. Not knowing all their names is the least of the movie's problems. Most of the characters are needless or pointless in that filmmakers don't do enough to endear us to them. It's mainly because there are too many of them and not enough time to develop them.

The ten segments aren't just one segment after the other. The editing and interstitial work from an eleventh director weaves the characters together or simply introduces them prior to their individual segments. A lot of it feels random and unnecessary connective tissue that only muddles or lessons any impact the characters or stories might have.

Andrucha Waddington directs the first segment. It's about an elderly woman referenced as "Dona Fulana" aka Mrs. Nobody. She's a homeless woman, but as the segment progresses it's revealed that Dona Fulana is choosing to be homeless. She has family with whom she could stay, so instead of being an insightful look at homelessness or poverty in Brazil, it's this weird quirky piece. It's not even a romance because the other character is her grandson, which is fine if the love is familial, but the segment doesn't build enough. If the love is for the city, then this segment fails too. The final shot for example is Dona Fulana and her grandson in a fountain, but Waddington provides no wide-shot to give us any sense of where they are or what fountain they're in.

Paolo Sorrentino directs the second segment, which speaks to aging a little. Fernando Meirelles directs the third segment about a sand-sculptor, but it's also distinctive for its lack of wide-shots. Its continual close-ups of Vincent Cassel makes it semi-worthwhile because Cassel is such a handsome and dynamic actor. John Turturro directs and stars in the fifth, which would have benefitted from the movie telling its title, "Quando Nao Ha Mais Amor," or "Where There Is No More Love," as it's just Turturro arguing with a woman with glimpses of their happy life prior. Sang-soo Im directs the seventh, which is about a vampire who does a dance. Carlos Saldonha directs the eighth, which encircles two ballet dances. Jose Padilha directs the ninth about a hang-glider cursing Christ the Redeemer and Nadine Labaki directs the tenth and final, which involves Harvey Keitel as an actor playing a priest.

Jason Isaacs (left) and Land Vieira in 'Rio, I Love You'
As I described the ten segments, I intentionally skipped over two segments. Those two are the best segments, while the aforementioned eight are almost forgettable. The first of the two best segments is "Acho que Estou Apaixonado," directed by Stephan Elliott, an openly gay filmmaker. Chronologically, it's the fourth segment. It stars Ryan Kwanten as an actor named Jai Arnott from Australia who spends the day with his limo driver named Celio, played by Marcelo Serrado. It's about a relationship that Elliott builds skillfully even if subtly and quickly as the two characters rock-climb Sugarloaf Mountain.

The second of the best segments is "Texas," directed by Guillermo Arriaga, the acclaimed writer of Amores Perros and 21 Grams. Chronologically, it's the sixth. It stars Land Vieira who plays a one-armed boxer named Joao Fayjo but his nickname is Texas. He has a girlfriend named Maria, played by Laura Neiva, who is in a wheelchair, apparently a paraplegic. Texas and Maria's injury are revealed to be Texas' fault, but Jason Isaacs plays a gringo who offers up an indecent proposal to repair both of them. It's not a complete story with arguably a satisfying ending but the performances and the emotional resonance is so strong that Arriaga sweeps you up in the power of it, invoking the same grittiness as Amores Perros. It's so good that I actually believed Vieria only had one arm.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated R for language, brief sexuality and nudity.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 49 mins.


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